Felicity Timcke grew up and was educated in a small town in South Africa. After marrying her husband, Michael, more than 25 years ago, she was swept off to explore the exotic lands of Aladdin and Marco Polo, Ali Baba and Genghis Khan, the fabulous characters who were her childhood fascinations and friends. As the wife of a diplomat, an English teacher, a librarian and a musician, Felicity has managed to combine her love of words, and her passion for exotic cultures, creating a kaleidoscope of the images she has seen, the people she has met and the Silk Road she has walked, in a compilation of letters to her friends. Felicity invites you to share with her, some of her most exciting, most hilarious, most awkward, most moving and most intimate moments in her biographical travelogue to destinations reached by roads less travelled in her book “Silk, Spices, Veils and Vodka”.
“Silk, Spices, Veils and Vodka”
Summer is party season due to the abundance of fruit. In addition to regular parties, it is also wedding season which has proved to be a very busy time for us. Apparently it is quite prestigious to have a foreigner attend one’s wedding. A foreigner at a wedding is known in Russian as a “wedding general”. In the times of the Soviet Union, having a high-rank military official meant one had contacts in the right places. This has dribbled down into Uzbek culture in the form of having anyone “different” at your wedding, including a “foreign freak”. That’s us.
Long, overly-embellished, flowery speeches of good wishes, lots of money, many children and happiness (in that order) are compulsory at a wedding – starting from the “wedding General”, close family members, special guests moving through all who are in attendance and finishing with those who are too drunk to say anything significant but are still obliged to say something. Each toast is accompanied by a tot of vodka (Champagne for ladies). Given that there may be around 20 – 30 toasts at any given wedding means that one can easily demolish a bottle of vodka per person. Needless to say, the speeches get deeper, more philosophical and blurred as the night forges on.
In addition to the speeches, the toasts and the vodka is the dancing. While dancing was never one of our fortes, it has turned out to be quite fun – I think more fun for those who watch us. Dancing is quite important at weddings. It is believed that if one’s guests dance a lot at one’s wedding, they are enjoying it. So there is quite a bit of pressure in that area. The vodka and champagne (for ladies) helps move things along. Anyway, it this provides us with very good opportunities to make friends, practice our meager language skills and new dance moves.
I would like to share what I see from my Ivory Tower every morning. We live on one of the corners of a crossroads. Across the street is a mosque, quite plain, its minaret decorated with stars and moons, topped by a rusty, rather funky-looking pointed structure made out of metal strips. The Imam, clears the phlegm from his throat over the microphone from his minaret at 4h30 every morning before singing the mezzin (call to prayer). Other than the coughing and spluttering it is a wonderfully natural and peaceful sound to wake up to. The garden, though very dusty, is spotless. I think it will look wonderful in the spring.
Eight o’clock in the morning is very busy. The corner outside the mosque is a taxi rank/bus stop with all forms of transportation stopping and endlessly ejecting a never-ending stream of passengers. The minivan being the most popular. Each van has a destination called out by a young man who hangs out of the door. Most people alight while it is still moving, and of course, in true Central Asian style, there is no queue, so there is a mad rush of potential passengers each time a van stops.
There is a woman, about 35-years-old, who stands outside our building every morning with her two children. Her son, dressed in the trendiest jeans and sneakers, has red (orange hair). He looks full of mischief – I’m glad I’m not his teacher. Her daughter is cute, usually dressed in primary colours. Both have their book bags on their backs, waiting to be picked up for school. I think they may be in 3rd and 4th grade.
On the sidewalk, some men are preparing breakfast dishes to sell to those rushing to their place of work or opening their shops. It looks and smells good. Scrambled eggs drowned in a most delicious-looking tomato, onion and pepper sauce. All scooped up with fresh hot bread – loaves that look like the snow-shoes of Laplanders (for those of you who have read stories of Santa and his reindeer). Old men scuttle from shop to shop holding five or six pots of hot steaming tea in one hand and a tray of cups and glasses in another, serving tea to, it seems, everyone in the street.
So, as my Kabul wakes up to another dusty day, I see a blanket of colour, fabric, and movement unfold before my eyes – the sounds and smells draw me closer to a world I am not yet part of, yet long to be.
My lot seems to be to have my head covered for most of the time – bouncing between Afghanistan and Iran, what more could I expect? I don’t think I will ever become accustomed to this, but there is a certain novelty factor to having to cover your head all the time, I have outlined the advantages and disadvantages:
If you have a scarf, or a piece of cloth nearby, put it on your head like the Muslim women do – it will mean so much more.*
– It totally obstructs your peripheral vision. Try looking to your right and to your left without turning your head. YOU CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!!!
– Now try driving a car….
– Try to drink all the contents of a can of cooldrink , can you drink to the end? Flipping your head back causes your scarf to slip off.
– Try to roar with laughter, throwing your head back???
– Now try tying your shoelaces???
– Or talking on a mobile phone…. Talking is fine, it’s the hearing that’s the problem.
– Walking into the wind with a shopping bag in each hand can become rather problematic.
– Scarves slip off you head without you noticing it. It’s a bit like having spinach in your teeth, if no-one tells you, you will never know.
– Needless to say, no more bad-hair-days. Wonderful!
– Spiky hairstyles? Out of the question. Although, my stiffly gelled spikes help keep the scarf in place, as long as the spikes can pierce through the fabric. Mine do. I find it much easier than those with soft, silk, shiny hair.
– A scarf loosely draped beneath your chin could be a handy rice-catcher or crumb-catcher. Particularly when eating a croissant.
– For us middle-aged ladies, no more double-chins for the world to see.
Now that I’ve given you all an activity, I will sign off so that you can get on with experimenting with your head-covering.